October 6, 2004

Posted on Wed, Oct. 06, 2004

Elmer Smith | A memorial park for the original Philadelphia Stars
Philadelphia Daily News

WHEN THE Philadelphia Stars were firing on all cylinders, the only guy who could shut them down was the fire marshal.

So they announced the attendance in their band-box ballpark at Belmont and Parkside as 3,500. But what they really drew was more than the law allowed.

Bill "Ready" Cash
, one of five remaining Stars, has gunned down runners sliding into second base in six countries. But there was something about playing at home in front of the "capacity" crowds that used to rock those old wooden stands.

"We always drew big crowds," Cash told me yesterday. "We played 72 games in 1938 and lost four of them. It was exciting.

"I caught every game in 1943, and I was working the midnight shift seven days a week because of the war. On Mondays, if the A's or Phillies were out of town, we played at Shibe Park. Don't let old Satchell Paige come in. If they drew 10,000 on Sunday, we'd draw 35,000 on Monday.

"But our home was 44th and Parkside. It was always filled when we were in town."

The fans who actually remember the Stars and their ball field in the park barely outnumber the five remaining players. But a project to build a memorial park on the site has drawn an outpouring of support that even its organizers have trouble believing.

Just this week, the Philadelphia Building Trades Council announced that it will donate $150,000 in labor to build on a plan donated by Synterra Partners. Their key donation has accelerated the project's pace.

"We're looking to break ground on the 17th or 18th," said Miller Parker of the Business Association of West Parkside, lead partner in a coalition of groups organized to build the memorial. Actually, they were organized around a much more modest goal. They just wanted to place a statue near a plaque on the site.

"People were just driving by the plaque," Parker said. "We thought a statue there would complement the plaque.

"We saw it as something positive that the community could put their hands on and embrace, a project of pride."

But since then, the thing has taken off like a Jim Thome liner. The Parkside community commissioned its statue, a seven-foot bronze figure of a Negro Leagues player on a granite base. The Phillies, who have pledged to provide for its upkeep, unveiled it at the opening of their new stadium last year.

The city, concerned about traffic patterns around the imposing monument, decided to close off the street, creating a parcel suitable for the impressive memorial designed by Synterra.

"When we went to the Building Trades Council," Parker recalled, they set up a meeting of the entire council to hear us.

"The Laborers decided to take the lead because they never had a project that they could really get behind as their own before.

"They looked back to all the suffering and pain of the past and decided this is a good, clean piece that is just positive.

"The night before the ground- breaking, the Laborers will have a private prayer service. That's how much this means to them."

Bill Kendricks of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City said the biggest surprise may be yet to come.

"The biggest group of tourists we draw are Japanese," said Kendricks in a telephone interview yesterday. "People come from all over the world to see it."

It could happen here too. A project that started out with a plaque and grew into a seven-foot statue that guards a multi-acre memorial park may turn into a thriving tourist attraction.

But the old Philadelphia Stars always did draw a bigger crowd than they were supposed to.